directed by Andrew Seklir & Tim Kinzy
by Walter Chaw This is a well-mounted documentary about videogame geek Tim McVey (no, not that Tim McVeigh), who, as a carbuncular teen, once scored a billion points on little-known stand-up game Nibbler--a symbolic victory for its marathon nature (typically a 40-hour run is required for such a feat) and for the rarity of having a machine that would actually tally a ten-digit score. Man vs Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler is ultimately best when it diagrams the essential decency of Tim and especially his impossibly kind and supportive wife, Tina. The film follows along as Tim's record is challenged, first by an Italian upstart and martial-arts expert obsessed with becoming a "war machine," then by closer-to-homegrown challengers, one of whom may or may not have messed with the programming on his personal machine, the better to decrease the physical challenge of the exercise. As McVey repeatedly tries and fails to equal his early success, one is reminded of Everybody's All-Americans struggling to recapture their glory years as captains of the football team. Each time McVey throws a little tantrum and stalks away from the screen, helpless to watch his blisters grow and his reflexes flag, the movie gains in tension. We root for McVey. We see in him, I think, a fundamental human desire for growth, and a late-film revelation that McVey has found a better job suggests there's a real-life analogue to videogame success after all. What injures is the intercutting of declarations that Nibbler marathons are athletic competitions requiring physical training with shots of the game's rotund practitioners (sometimes riding bikes), perched as it is right on the edge of exploitation and the nasty kind of laughter. Worse is the portrayal of one competitor as unhinged and violent, as evidenced by a police video showing him getting the crap beaten out of him by police. In these moments, Man vs Snake bites off more than it can chew. The rest of it is King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters again. Testament to the subject that it hasn't quite out-stayed its welcome.